Covina to Blythe, CA 1977; Los Angeles to Vancouver, BC, 1986; Washington DC to Maryland, 1978
By: Thomas Schabarum
Covina to Blythe, CA 1977
for Walt The road to Blythe was long. Then, nothing connected towns, each an outpost of quiet until the guns came. In early autumn buckshot strafed the sky, birds fell, one by one, black stars were fists against the white. Handing me the keys you said, “drive.” And I underage, no license, drove. I had no fear at fifteen, but a decade on and you were gone. At twenty-five I knew fear: a friend nose-dived his glider when his diagnosis came. At fifteen, my hand on the wheel, desert heat drowsing you, you told stories of men together in darkness. I didn’t understand until years later after you were gone. Now, at fifty-three, I remember you took me to see King Lear; it is the stars, the stars above us, govern our conditions, and it is true, and there, under the moon, a friend waited to share death’s news of you.
Los Angeles to Vancouver, BC, 1986
I could be like him, the man who’d left me, and I was for a while: Mad Max, The Road Warrior, annihilation in my tracks. Between two lives I packed a van with home supplies for the long drive to Canada. The world was gathering there; internationals, celebrities, regular folk like me who’d never seen anything north of our border. I did everything that humanly diminished me. I stood in the tall trees of Muir Woods, spread my arms out like Point Reyes seagulls against strong winds, and slouched beneath Morro Rock. I placed my hand on El Capitan, its shadow decreased my light. In the dark night, I snuck men into my van and released them to their lives. I traveled the old highways up California, Oregon and hunkered in darkness along 84’s Columbia Gorge – a river is a thing to get lost in. Here, the boarded up businesses, stilt homes teetering over water, boats being beckoned back to sea. We were travelers, me and those treasures I collected. We were gaining stature. We were cheetahs. We were bears lumbering through the bush. We were children on bikes smoking away from parents. We were drain dwellers under cities powering incandescence. We were corded nets gathering fish in our bellies. I crossed into Canada, Peace Arch in the rearview, smoke in the bay at Blaine. Suddenly, everything was new: carousels and pavilions, monorails and silver spheres. I was alone among thousands; water was everywhere. People were tides, moving in and out, swelling the exhibit’s shores then retreating. I wanted to talk, but back then I wasn’t prone to it. I was tactile. My fingers were the flesh of every man I needed: the man at Point Reyes, in the dark Vancouver park, a map of men along the blue highways. I said everything that diminished me.
Washington DC to Maryland, 1978
Dust swirls across a Southern road, settles, reveals red flashing lights. The moment could have gone any way on this See America drive. The trip, requested by a father, trying to understand the road’s significance, and seeing and not seeing danger signs: blackbirds in flight, color of air going red, strange wind battering the windows, and the car ahead, stopped in milky miasma; his son’s love also stopped. In a moment, everything could have gone horribly wrong, but now, a deep exhale of breath, the father’s arm across the boy’s chest, love returned, which now is different. Love remembered is found luck in the clearing dust storm; his foot lifting from the brake.
Tom Schabarum holds an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Bennington College, Vermont. He is recipient of the 2010 Creekwalker Poetry Prize. His poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, Crab Creek Review, Floating Bridge, pifmagazine and The Breakfast District among others. He has published three novels, Airstreaming, The Palisades (Lambda Literary Award Finalist), and The Narrows, Miles Deep: a novella and stories, which was selected as a best book for 2011 for Lambda Literary by Felice Picano. He and his husband own an Airstream trailer and depart from Seattle, WA constantly. These poems are part of a series called “See America.” Each poem is a particular drive taken by me or a family member, all of them real, some events imagined, but all specific to the people involved. Covina to Blythe is a drive I took with a family friend to go hunting for quail who was gay and took me under his wing when he found out I was. He ignited my love for Shakespearean theater after taking me to see Kenneth Branaugh’s “King Lear.” Three people I cared about are represented here and all of them passed away from HIV/AIDS. The Vancouver poem was a trip I took after a failed relationship up the coast to Vancouver’s World Fair. It was a trip of discovery, hedonism, destruction and rebirth all out of the back of an old Toyota van. My father and I have a tumultuous relationship and this drive was through the farmlands of Maryland just as we were trying to negotiate how our relationship would be.